Glossary of Aviation Terms | Pilot in Command

Pilot in Command | Paramount Business Jets

The pilot in command (PIC) of an aircraft is the person who is in charge of the aircraft and is the final authority over all operations and safety throughout the flight. When an airliner has a two- or three-person crew, this is usually the captain. In general aviation, the pilot in command is the person with the highest rating. For instance, if there are two pilots in an aircraft, one with a private pilot rating and one with a commercial rating, the pilot with the commercial rating would be the pilot in command. He is legally responsible for the safety and operation of the aircraft while it is in operation and if any FAR (Federal Aviation Regulation) is broken. However, due to vague regulations, the pilot does not always have to manually manipulate the controls.

Under the United States Federal Aviation Regulations 91.3: "Responsibility and authority of the pilot in command", the FAA (federal aviation administration) declares:

  • The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft.
  • In an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency.
  • Each pilot in command who deviates from a rule under paragraph (b) of this section shall, upon the request of the Administrator, send a written report of that deviation to the Administrator.

The FARs don’t say specifically what the pilot is commanding. It just says that he is in command of the aircraft. They do not say whether he must be controlling the aircraft or if he is controlling the people on the aircraft. This has been a subject of controversy ever since the creation of the rules.

According to ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization), the PIC is defined as: "The pilot responsible for the operation and safety of the aircraft during flight time." Flight time is defined as: "The total time from the moment an aircraft first moves under its own power for the purpose of taking off until the moment it comes to rest at the end of the flight." Even with this pilot in command definition, there are some problems that arise because mechanics or other people are allowed to taxi the aircraft from one spot to another without a pilot's license. So the mechanic would technically be the pilot in command of the aircraft without actually being a pilot.

The original concept of the pilot in command comes from the very distant past, when pilots were the captains of ships. Although they were called captains instead of pilots, there was a chain of command in which the controller of the ship was the pilot in command. Today, many connections other than the pilot in command can be traced back to maritime concepts, such as the use of knots instead of mph and distance being measured in nautical miles instead of miles. Even the concept of FAR 91.3 (b), which empowers the pilot in command to break any rule in order to maintain the safety of the ship, can be traced back to the power given to ancient sea captains, entrusted with the king's jewels.

Get a Quote for Your trip